By Jan Larraine Cox
About Blue Zone Areas
The blue zone areas of the world—Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan–share certain practices that increase longevity and health. The vitality these practices deliver lowers rates of disease while improving quality relationships, as the blue zones promote active engagement within their communities; not just enjoyment in the moment, but also long-term within one’s circle of friends.
The longest-lived women over 70 in the world live in the blue zone of Okinawa, Japan. There are certain common denominators they exhibit. First, they move naturally. Rather than joining a gym, they live in environments that encourage them to move: they grow gardens and don’t use modern conveniences for housework and yardwork.
Next, they feel a purpose, which they call ikegai; this translates into “why I get up in the morning”. That inner knowledge grants them up to seven years of extra life expectancy,” according to blue zone researcher Dan Buettner.
But even blue zone people experience stress. This can lead to chronic inflammation, which is related to many age-related diseases. Okinawan women take a few moments each day to decompress by thinking of their ancestors. Having photos of them in the home is a natural segue to engaging in this practice.
Hara hachi bu is a mantra the Okinawans say before meals, which instructs them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The smallest meal of the day is prepared and eaten in the late afternoon or early evening. And that’s it for the rest of the day.
Beans are a cornerstone of the centenarian diet: black beans, soy and lentils are favorites. Rather than concentrating on meat for protein, that is put on the back burner for all but once per week, and then only the size of a deck of cards.
Blue zone people drink alcohol moderately and regularly, with food and friends. And a sense of belonging to some sort of faith community that they attend weekly adds four to 14 years of life expectancy, according to research quoted by Dan Buettner. Blue zoners put their families first, and keep parents and grandparents nearby.
Finally, Okinawans create moais—a group of five friends that commit to each other for life. These social circles support healthy behavior, through contagious happiness. Moai means meeting for a common purpose, for social, emotional or financial support, in times of need. Knowing there is always someone there for them provides a sense of security and lowers stress.
How do Okinawans form these moais? Select four to eight people to join in for a walk or potluck moai, or wine at 5 pm. Stay in touch through group email or a closed Facebook group. They share blue zone recipes and walk certain special trails and neighborhoods to check out together.
They spend time outside each day, exposed to sunlight which promotes stronger bones. The Okinawans are active walkers. Their top longevity foods are: bitter melon, tofu, sweet potato, garlic, turmeric, brown rice, green tea, shitake mushrooms, green onions and seaweed (kombu; wakame).
From them we can learn to eat 100% whole grains, two handfuls of nuts a day, a cup of cooked beans, and a variety of fruits and vegetables via 5 to 10 servings per day.
Have a Happy and Healthy Mothers’ Day!
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